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Will the Cardinals have a regular closer by end of season?

Watching the bullpen tonight with Boggs and Motte throwing, makes one think of possible closers for the team. But it also brings thoughts of if there should be a certain person pitching in a certain inning. With mainly Franklin as closer, the Cardinals were getting in the low 40's in saves. This total dipped last season, and obviously this year was a disaster for him. Even the beard was gone, foreshadowing an early retirement of a once competitive player. 

Bullpen drama is nothing new, however. It's a part of the game, in its somewhat questionable effect on a team. The main effect being in management, deciding when to pull the plug in a difficult situation. The Cards triumvirate of DeLarusliak went par for the course; handling the situation fairly overall, I suppose. If it had gone on any longer though, the mood would not be favorable, as a player takes up a roster spot for no discernible reason. The expulsion of Batista and Franklin is a sort of a feel-good bittersweet situation. Especially when considering last year's roster which was full of players that needed to be jettisoned.

A look into high leverage situations over the last 3 seasons for the Cardinals bullpen, one anchored by Franklin in the 9th, but with an everchanging supporting cast:

 

  • 2008: 5.07 FIP | 4.57 xFIP | 5.14 tERA
  • 2009: 3.59 FIP | 4.14 xFIP | 4.02 tERA
  • 2010: 4.05 FIP | 3.81 xFIP | 3.81 tERA
  • AVE over 3 seasons: 4.25 | 4.19 | 4.34
  • Ryan Franklin '08: 4.56 xFIP | '09: 4.25 | '10: 4.11 
  • by FIP, Franklin was in decline the last two years

 

With Franklin as closer, the Cardinals do not appear to be overly cautious about who closes games. Fastforward to 2011, and does not show anything remotely close to last year's 4.11 xFIP. His 6.54 FIP and 6.02 xFIP in high leverage situations this season made every fan flinch when he entered the game (don't even look at the medium leverage numbers).

This season the Cardinals are towards the bottom of the league in relief appearances with high leverage situations. It seems that the Cardinals organization is opening its mind to not insistinng that their best bullpen pitcher is definitely the closer. Which made it odd that Franklin was the guy in past years. Maybe lesson learned? It's tough to tell when each year the make up of the bullpen continued to change around quite a bit. It seemed that Larussa preferred a veteran in the role, with a bullpen made up mostly of young converts such as Motte and Boggs, aging random LOOGY's (as usual), and more random run of the mill puppy kickers, Villones, and Denny's reference generators. 

This year, with the continued success of Motte, Boggs, & Salas, and now Lance Lynn joining (or replacing McClellan's spot), it seems that the bullpen might be becoming something new and more grounded (hoping). It's a bullpen that doesn't make me quite as terrified, although I must say Tallet and Miller may need to go also. I'm thinking that Lance Lynn could be a bolster to a 'pen that just dfa'd 2 players in a relatively short time span. Without more rambling, here are the stats for Sauce, Boggsy, Salsa, and LL. (with FIP/xFIP)

Boggs and Lynn are nearly identical at this point (admittedly Lynn's numbers could blow up at any time). And Motte is no slouch with a 2.81 FIP. With three to four solid relievers in the 'pen, it would be nice to maybe find one good LOOGY or make one more upgrade. Although, it's too early to tell what the new additions will do.

  • In 2011 Jason Motte, according to fangraphs and sabermetric stats like FIP and xFIP, has been most valuable in medium leverage and lower leverage outcomes. A 3.88 FIP in high leverage is not too bad either.
  • Boggs seems to be a bit better in high leverage situations, and is also good in medium leverage. he seems to be a bit to relaxed in low leverage. An added note, he's been very unlucky in high leverage, but his numbers are great with a 2.08 FIP. Looks to be small sample distortion  
  • Salas is best utilized in middle leverage or low. He doesn't have as good of stuff or rate stats, although he is quite reliable overall. His best ability looks to be that he doesn't get flustered by men on base.
  • Newcomer Lance Lynn is a lot more difficult to predict, but he has handled pressure well in limited chances. His splits indicate he may be more effective as a reliever, but since he's already been converted from starter it's difficult to tell the difference. One thing I did notice is that when he gets ahead early in the count his K/9 looks very nice. I think he can up the speed on the fastball a bit higher even, now that he's a reliever.

For now it seems a little odd that the Cardinals will throw Lynn into higher leverage situations. It seems like a bit of a gamble, but they have been experimenting who might fit a role that no one is sure is that important any more. For now I'd be most comfortable with Boggs as closer, or if there haven't been any close games use him as a shut down guy. Motte is already that man, with more innings pitched. Although, I must say, TLR's usage of probably his two best relievers is seemingly random. Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes it makes none (sending down Boggs was especially confusing).

So sure, why not throw Lynn into the contention. I suppose there may be many opportunities for the bullpen to prove themselves under pressure. Without no clear ace for the starters, and some questionable defense, these 4 of bullpen will ride. Now which one is which.

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